Recording: Schoenberg conducts Mahler. Who knew?

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  • Schoenberg never stopped loving what he himself called ‘this flowery romanticism’, and it pained him that ‘fate’ forced him to develop both atonal expressionism and sterile dodecaphony. Gods knows what he had written if he had not been infected by Hegelian histotical philosophy, the spirit of the times which chased progress as in science, and if his first wife had not eloped with his friend Richard Gerstl. Deep-down he remained an oldfashioned Viennese.

    • Yes, it is rather stiff, and lacks the Viennese schmalz. His brain had become rather stiffened after many years of dodecaphonic puzzling.

    • I think it must have been in London, where he had been before with performances of his Five Orchestral Pieces.

  • It’s from a Cadillac Symphony radio broadcast of April 8, 1934. Cadillac Symphony was a weekly series broadcast over NBC from New York from 1933-35 and as you might guess was sponsored by Cadillac. It was indeed hosted by Milton Cross and was one of several similarly-sponsored orchestra series of the time (e.g., there was also a General Motors Symphony Orchestra series). This performance was recently given a new transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn and issued on the Pristine Audio label last year;

    In his notes for that recording, Obert-Thorn surmises that the name “Cadillac Symphony” was “most likely a sponsor-dictated pseudonym for NBC’s in-house Blue Network Orchestra”. The broadcast took place during the brief period of time in 1934 when Schoenberg lived in the Boston area and taught at the Malkin Conservatory of Music before moving to Los Angeles in 1935. He was invited by NBC to come to New York to conduct the concert, which also included his “Song of the Wood Dove” (Lied der Waldtaube) from his Gurrelieder with mezzo-soprano Rose Bampton as soloist. Recordings of both these performances can be found at this link of historic recordings on the Arnold Schoenberg Center site:

  • Wonder who the members were of “The Cadillac Symphony”? Freelancing N Y Phil members and/or members of the Met Opera orchestra? Too early for the NBC Symphony.

    • The Blue Network Orchestra would have been a different organization than the NBC Symphony, one that preceded it. But I think it’s a fair guess to say that freelancers from the NY Phil and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra would likely have been members of it.

  • NBC did have a staff orchestra then, even if it wasn’t as large as the one that was organized for Toscanini. It could well have been augmented on occasion by moonlighting Phil or Met players.

  • There is a wonderful story of Otto Klemperer who was ill begging Walter Legge to let Paul Hindemith take his place. The performance was dire and the following day Legge went to visit Klemperer who was sitting up in bed howling with laughter at the reviews. So can Schoenberg conduct Mahler?

    • Very interesting lecture, especially the intricacies of the convoluted political scene of the times. Everything, politics, art and music seemed to be struggling for an identity in a very stirred up cauldron. Thank you for sharing it.

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